I’ve just started my new position as rector of St Peter’s in Edmonton. (Six weeks in, so everyone still thinks I’m new. A year from now, church members will still understand that I’m new.)
As with most new clergy, I’m frequently asked one question. “How are you going to save the Church?”
People don’t actually say that. I hear it underneath the questions they voice: “How old is your congregation?…What can you do to bring in young people?” “Are you worried about the budget?” “Churches, well mainline Protestant Churches, are shrinking, why do you think that is?” “Do you think the Church is still relevant to people today?”
“How are you going to save the Church?”
I don’t think they like my answer.
There is the snarky, true, answer. I am not going to save the Church. As with the rest of the world, Jesus Christ has, is, will save the Church. (Often from the Church.)
I believe that. I don’t say that.
I don’t say that these questions, especially about young people, often have me imagining a white panel van, ‘Church’ emblazoned on the side, waiting for the correct candy.
I point out that the fears about the downfall of the Church and the Gospel are unfounded. Both have survived and flourished through far more.
I assure them that I don’t have a three or five or seven point plan.
People hang on with me through those.
I go on to say that we need to learn what we believe and articulate it excellently. We need to discern what the mission of this parish is and engage excellently in it.
This is where, I suspect, I lose people. No one has told me I am crazy, my idea doomed, and left abruptly. I think they are too polite. This is where I get the sense that they understand that my not-a-plan would really benefit from a plan.
After all, isn’t this what the Church does? Seek out new members? Because we need more people and more money, (two phrases for the same problem). Or at least new Christians (who will tithe!)?
If I were worried about saving the Church, and the young people, and the money, I’m relatively sure that’s still the wrong approach.
Jesus Christ, through his ministry and his resurrection, has, is, will save the Church.
Jesus Christ, through his ministry and his resurrection, has, is, will save the World.
In the midst of Jesus’s work, we are to think and do whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)
This is not finding young people, growing the Church, or fixing the budget. The Church’s mission is not youth and money. The Church’s mission is the living and the proclamation of the Gospel (two phrases for the same thing).
We as people and we as the Church occasionally manage to do whatever is excellent.
More often I find that we get distracted. The budget needs fixing, someone dies, our community is fighting, we have doubts, we have debts, the music program has fallen apart, we are old, we are tired. We are no longer being excellent. We are hoping for a three point plan to save the Church.
I want to work on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, that’s what I want to be about.
And then tell people about it.